Hop, Skip & a Jump: The Critter’s guide to being moved by movement at NAF ’18

Flatfoot Dance Company presents ‘Down to the Marrow’ at the National Arts Festival 2018. Image supplied.



Over here.

It’s us, the fringe’s dance and physical theatre and performance art productions… tucked mid-way through the NAF programme on a total of five pages (minus the ads, ya know). If ya ain’t looking, ya might miss us.”

Ha ha, just a bit of fun. But methinks we need to figure out why the number of productions has dropped from 60-odd only two years ago to 30-odd this year on the National Arts Festival fringe. Maths was never an interest (read strength), but that’s half, right?

It’s slightly concerning for those of us who hold the power of dance and physicality in high esteem. We desperately need the magic of movement in our fractured society. It employs a different language to filter through to our subconscious and instinctual selves… to fire off connections within us and between us… to discover new ways of being in and understanding this world. I believe.

2018 is the first year a choreographer-dancer, Mamela Nyamza, has been selected as the National Arts Festival’s Featured Artist. And the curated Main Dance is showcasing 99% South African companies. That’s all very good news.

But when it comes to the uncurated fringe… what’s happening? Is fickle funding the problem? Are high petrol and accommodation prices making it harder to come to Grahamstown? Have we, the audiences, not been showing enough ticket-purchasing love to our movement artists in recent years? Or am I mistaking a blurring and blending of genre boundaries for a lack of dance or physical theatre? A lot of what I’d consider ‘physical theatre’ is housed under ‘theatre’ – is that a shrewd move by theatre-makers who know the general public is wary of category labels that don’t necessarily promise ‘explanations’ and neat plotlines?

Alright, rambling rant over. To the productions that ARE here at this year’s National Arts Festival! Yippee!

Many a new name graces the glossy pages. No complaints here. But most have not yet been experienced by The Critter. Soooo… I’m diving into this guide half blindfolded (I guess that’s an eyepatch) and trusting my instinct after years of blurb analysis.


The aforementioned performance art ‘section’ lists one production. And we like it:

Yet to be Determined
A “meditation on irrevocable change”. My interpretation of the blurb: this work will look at humanity’s self-appointed importance and give us a frightening view of a future already encircling us. Gavin Krastin is well known for his darkly devastating, awkward and curious work. The Critter has engaged with his provocative offerings over the years (here, here and here) and we’re looking forward to what he’s conjured up for us this year.

“Only one?!” you might squeal.

Don’t despair, dear avid performance art lover, The Critter has done a little digging for you. If you’re after more off-the-wall, awesome live art experiences, flip from the fringe back to page 149 and you’ll discover the excellent Arts Lounge Africa events which I’m sure will leave you gawking and get you talking (read more here). Plan well as there’s only one performance each by artists Bernard Akoi Jackson, the African Social Sculpture Cooperative (do not miss), Masimba Hwati, Samkela Stamper, and Akissi Beukman.

[Side note: on that very same page 149, you’ll also find Circus Schönberg, a world premiere by the Netherlands-based Asko|Schönberg, which The Critter reckons will be a wild musical ride. Acrobatically tossing convention up in the air? Playfully juggling with 20th century composers’ work? I’m in.]

OK, back to the Fringe. This is what we’re eyeballing:

Down to the Marrow
Durbs-based Flatfoot Dance Company has earned its long-standing reputation as a brilliant dance company under the leadership of Lliane Loots. Certain to be a fringe highlight, Down to the Marrow grapples with the “interior landscape of identity”, and showcases new, vibrant choreography from Jabu Siphika, Zinhle Nzama and Sifiso Khumalo.

Oh lawd, you gotsta see this. These cray-cray casino kids reveal everything that’s screwy with our modern world. It is hideously brilliant, scary satire. A stellar team presents: creators Joni Barnard and Roberto Pombo are directed by Toni Morkel, with lighting design and dramaturgy by Jemma Kahn (yes, the SBYA 2018 for Theatre). Critter Steve called it “a glitter horror show” here. Make sure it’s on your list. Oh ja, and this is what we’ve said about these creatively creepy artists before.

Lebitso (‘Name’)
Searching for freedom and resisting the system of societal norms. Sounds good to me. A collaboration between AFDA Johannesburg and the Norwegian Theatre Academy of Østfold University College, Lebitso uses visual and physical theatre to tell the story of a young man’s journey of discovery. We’re promised dreamscapes, an “extraordinary tale” and “captivating” theatre about identity and destiny.

Queen of Sheba
I’m biased towards any story of womxn who middle-fingered the patriarchy in ancient history. And I’m keen to see what Thandiwe Sekhibane does with a narrative that’s spanned centuries and has been as chopped up and regurgitated by religious storytellers as this one. Sekhibane’s Queen of Sheba celebrates the leadership and wisdom of fearless women.

Sullied promises to challenge, question and deconstruct body politics – looking at religion, race, gender, sexuality and rape culture… Choreographer Kristi-Leigh Gresse’s Sullied asks how we endure living in a world rife with abuse and suffering. Once upon a time, The Critter reviewed a work Gresse was part of creating and performed in (read here) where the young artists showed much promise.

Hip Hop vs Contemporary Beat
Reginald Danster directs Hip Hop vs Contemporary Beat, about “Luthando [who] hunts deep into the inner recesses of Xhosa culture while cradling the bible”. I’m interested. Also, it’s good to see some Eastern Cape locals (from the East London area) on stage – presented by Gompo & Mdantsane Art Centre & The Guild Theatre.

Rhythm of Makhanda
Another Eastern Cape local group is Via Kasi Movers. In fact they’re Grahamstown’s very own, and have been on the local scene for some years. In Rhythm of Makhanda they present the story of the 1819 Battle of Grahamstown between the amaXhosa and British soldiers. Some impressive pantsula footwork awaits you.

The story is about a black South African who grew up during Apartheid and has relocated to Europe. He’s a boxer. Shadowboxing with himself, and with his demons. Durban-based Emphithi Empowering Projects promises a “provocative story” and a challenging experience. It might just deliver a punch to the gut.

Dikakapa is politically charged, interrogating SA’s democracy and the current government, and “looks to the young generation for new leadership”. Winning a Standard Bank Ovation Award last year, word around town was that it was a gem. It’s back this year, and I’d like to see what got everyone talking. You should too.

Well, there you have it. The Critter’s starter kit to dance, physical theatre and performance art on the fringe this year. #NAF18

One last piece of advice: the best way to warm up is to keep moving (or swig a little sherry) OR… get fired up whilst experiencing other bodies move, dance, prance, gyrate, shudder, leap, hop, skip and jump. Let’s show our movers some warmth and love this year. Let’s show them we need them and get ourselves moving towards their performances.

Alright, motivational speech over. Peace out.

Click here to read and download the full programme. And click here for where to find the dead tree version.

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